What to Know About Preferred Pronouns

By McKenzie Schwark
Feature Writer

You may have noticed more people putting she/her, they/them, or he/him in their email signatures or social media bios. In recent years our understanding of gender and gender binaries has evolved immensely, and pronouns, or how we address other people, has evolved too. Even though non-binary and trans people have existed forever, there is more visibility and understanding about those identities. 

What are gender pronouns?

Pronouns are words that we use to refer to people without using their name. He and she are common gendered pronouns for a singular person. But not everyone feels like those pronouns fit them. 

Gender binaries are two distinct opposite forms of masculine and feminine that are set by societal and cultural beliefs and norms (think girls play with dolls, boys play with trucks.) But regardless of how a person was born, or what they look like, people’s interests and the ways in which they see themselves don’t always fall into the gender binary. This is also true of their pronouns. Some people use they/them as their preferred pronoun, or ze if they don’t identify with she/her or he/him. Some people also use pronouns that don’t necessarily align with the gender binary that you identify them with. Just because someone looks a certain way doesn’t mean they use a particular pronoun, and being misgendered by improper pronouns can be really hurtful. It’s best-practice to ask someone for their preferred pronoun, or just default to they/them. 

Why does using someone’s preferred pronouns matter?

Using someone’s preferred pronouns is a sign of respect. It shows them that you care about their identity and see them for who they are. Being cognizant of preferred pronouns helps us to build a more inclusive world where everyone feels accepted for who they are. When you meet someone new you can introduce yourself by stating your name and your preferred pronouns, giving them an option to do the same. You can also always ask, as long as you’re doing so in a respectful way.

Why is it important for cisgender people to put their pronouns in their bios?

Putting your pronouns in a signature or bio isn’t’ just for non-binary or trans people. When cisgender (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) put their pronouns in a signature or bio it normalizes the practice. That way it isn’t only up to those whose preferred pronouns go against the gender binary to state their preference.

What to do if you misgender someone

Misgendering means incorrectly referring to someone’s gender when speaking to or about them. It happens when someone assumes a person’s gender identity (like identifying as male, female, or nonbinary) or using the wrong gender pronouns. Misgendering can be unintentional, but it can also have long lasting, painful effects. If you catch yourself misgendering someone, be calm and don’t go on the defensive. Apologize, correct yourself (or ask if you aren’t sure) and move on with the conversation. Don’t make the situation about yourself, your intention, or make excuses about the mistake. 

If someone points out that you misgendered them or another person, thank them for letting you know and correct yourself. Spend some time figuring out how you can adopt more inclusive language and practices in your daily life. Have you added your own pronouns to your email signature? Do you regularly introduce yourself with your own pronouns to new people so that they feel comfortable sharing theirs with you?

Language is a really powerful tool, especially when it comes to building a more equitable and inclusive world. Being more mindful of how we address our friends and neighbors shows that we care about them, and want them to be included.

👉 Visit mypronouns.org to learn more about inclusive language and personal pronouns.